The intent of this study was to assess the current status of the biotic communities of the Florida Middle Grounds, an area off the West Florida Shelf in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. We compared our data with that of other similar studies done 25 to 30 years ago in the 1970s to determine whether the area has experienced significant change in benthic cover and associated fish fauna. The Middle Grounds is unique because it represents the northernmost extent of mid- shelf octocoral communities in North America. and is the confluence of at least two faunal components, Caribbean and Carolinian. This study was not intended as a description of community dynamics, but only as a ‘snapshot’ of present conditions. We found no indications of coral die-off nor of other deseases in the benthic community, but there was an obvious paucity of economically important fish species which we attribute to fishing. The Florida Middle Grounds should be monitored at least decadally to assess the potential impacts of global warming, coastal development, offshore oil and gas exploration, and ocean dumping--all of which can have profound influences even in remote areas and affect the quality of the associated communities.
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